Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Hottie Aran

hot water bottle Here's a winter knit for you. Shown on the left is a common hot-water bottle or hottie. For those of you in tropical climes, this is a flexible rubber vessel with a screw-in stopper. You fill it two-thirds full of hot (not boiling) water, squeeze it to expel the air, screw in the stopper and put it in your bed. It is much appreciated by sick children and animals, people like me who sleep alone in poorly-heated, ill-built flats, and people whose sleeping partners object to cold toes.
hot-water bottle wearing a little Aran sweater
The beauty and utility of this mundane object can be much increased by knitting it a little woolly jumper (right). So equipped, it won't burn you when it's newly filled, and it will release its heat slowly over as much as eight or nine hours.

It's also a nice way of trying out a pattern or a new knitting technique. This particular pattern is a sort of miniature Aran sweater. I wanted to try out an arrangement of cables and the knit-and-purl pattern in the middle to see whether I liked it or not. I'm not all that keen on the knit-and-purl pattern, which is based on a tree-of-life design, but comes out as just diamonds. I think it's more trouble than it's worth. If I were making a proper gansey for a person I think I'd do something else there, maybe zigzags or even horizontal lines.

Materials: 4 x 4.5mm double-pointed needles, 2 balls Cygnet Superwash double knitting wool, or any near equivalent (these balls are a completely routine size so two balls of any kind of double-knitting should do).

Gauge: is not that crucial but I recommend a fairly tight fit.

  • Cast on 70 and join into a circle; or you could do a provisional cast on, which wouldn't be a bad idea as you will sew up the bottom later.
  • Knit 35, place marker, knit 35 and mark end of round (for example by having this at the end of one needle).
  • Work six repeats of the pattern in the chart below. Click it to see it at full, printable size. In each row work the pattern twice, once for the front and once for the back.
  • Work 24 rows of 2x2 rib (70 is not divisible by 4, so to make it match up at the end of the round you will have to either increase by two stitches, as I did, or decrease by two, or work 1x1 rib instead, it doesn't matter which).
  • Cast off with a stretchy cast off such as the one described here, work in ends, and sew up the bottom.

[Edit: I made a mistake in the chart. Row 6, st 21 should be a purl.]

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Playlist: Gustavo & Giselle in London

I've just found the first YouTube video of this tour. It's from the Dome (review here). I'm going to embed this as a playlist, and if I find any more of their visit I'll add them to the playlist so they appear here. I have hopes that the videos from the Welsh Centre and the Crypt might be easier to see because the light is better. I saw them at all three locations; all three of the performances, each of three tracks plus an encore, were magic, and all three quite different from each other.

Their own website is here:

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Shortest Day

For all my fellows struggling through the Northern dark, trying to keep our spirits up and wishing we could hibernate like a proper hedgehog (or a Moomin), here is a photo I took of some sunshine when I bought my camera in 2001.

Soon the sun will be back, wrapped in a blue cloth. It will get bigger and stronger in time. Today it rose at five past eight, and will set at six minutes to four. I hope your lights burn brightly.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

The Dome

As I'm on holiday and didn't have to get up this morning, I went to the Dome last night.

The class: I skipped the class. It was on musicality, given by Damian Lobato. He and Kicca are the regular teachers there, and I've taken one class with them before, but it was a long time ago and all I remember is that she's really sharp and takes the trouble to give detailed advice to the followers.

What I thought of the DJing: Perfectly standard. It was in sets, and not chaotic. No cortinas. Lots of good tunes, all of it made me want to dance more than not, nothing electronic or unusual, a few of my favourites, quite a lot of milongas, no wierd or disturbing juxtapositions. I don't remember there being a single vals, curiously. The DJ, according to the website, was Jorge Vacca.

Layout and atmosphere: Some of the seats are a bit dangerous as there's no boundary to the dance floor, but there are quite a few places where you can stand or sit down safely, there are two exits from the floor area, and it's not too difficult to move about. The raised platform, where I think they usually put tables, gives you a great view. The bar is separated from the dance floor by a low wall with openings. Everyone was pleasant and cheerful, including the bar staff. The only problem last night was the total absence of anywhere to hang your coat: everything went in an enormous pile, like a giant bedroom at a house party. Retrieving my stuff in the darkness was a challenge. Maybe this is usually better and it was just because of the crowd and the party food and whatnot.

Hospitality: Good. On this occasion it was the Christmas Party so there was lots of free food, which is a very friendly gesture. I'd already had my dinner so didn't have any myself. No water except at the bar, but the bar prices are not outrageous, I didn't notice anything explicitly forbidding you to bring your own, and all the taps work. [Edit: Anonymous in the Comments tells me there is free water in plastic glasses at the bar: they don't make this apparent, but now that I know it raises the 'hospitality' rating from OK to Good.]

Floorcraft: I had surprisingly few bumps considering the very dense crowd. They were mere touches, and neither my feet nor my hosiery were in serious danger. I think good dancers, and dancers who at least give a high priority to not kicking anyone, were a high proportion of the total, so that the hazards and the crowd didn't cause too many problems. I don't know if this was representative, it could have been just the result of who was there to see the performance. [Edit: it seems to be representative, see Comments]

Dances: I saw a lot of faces I knew but I also got some good ones with leads I hadn't danced with before, or not more than once. There were lots of good people to choose from and the layout makes it easy to watch and find people. Then it tailed off as it got more crowded. I'm sure it would have gone well if I'd been able to stay later, but I'm not fond of the night bus thing.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: There was a performance by Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne. They were magic. They're very playful - in particular they play around with the embrace, and when you watch them you feel that they always have a connection, but sometimes it's just with the eyes or even the feet. Their feet are magic too. It's spectacular to watch, but it doesn't feel at all contrived or stagey - it feels like the real thing. Very compelling. They're on tour, and they'll be at the Welsh Centre this Friday and at the Crypt on Saturday (always close your eyes for the first 3 seconds looking at that website, till the animations have finished whooshing). I know at least one person who videoed it all but I don't know what he's going to do with it yet.

Getting there and getting home: It is just round the corner from Tuffnell Park on the Northern Line. Walk down the left hand side of the pub and look for the "Dome" sign. Last train from Tufnell Park to Euston is at 00:13. There are buses 4 (last one around 23:55), plus the N20, 134, and 390 which are all 24-hours and will take you to interchanges such as Camden Town, Warren Street, and Trafalgar Square where you can probably find another bus home.

Admission: Wednesday nights, normally £6 or £9 with class, this night £10 because of the performance. Open till 2am.

Website: Neither pretty nor consistent, with particularly bad navigation from the home page, but generally does the job, and does include all the information you need somewhere, including pictures of the cast, which is something most people don't do. The Special Events page does not get updated - unless Gustavo and Giselle are not a 'Special Event' - but the Monthly Programme (which is hidden a level below "Milonga") does. The Location page is correct and helpful and includes map and buses. Style about 1997, with intermittent frames.

I had a good time and would definitely go again, if I could do so without struggling at work the next day. However, I'd probably take a big, brightly coloured kitbag because of the fact that there's nowhere to hang your stuff. I was glad I'd tied it all together with my scarf and put my gloves in my shoe bag, or I'd never have been able to turn myself back into a sufficiently hairy caterpillar for the below-freezing wait at the bus stop.

Another Drawer of Curiosities

I had to go into town early today, so I took the opportunity to go back to the British Museum. [Edit: here's a picture of the Great Court, which I took a couple of summers ago].

I started with the Colossal statue of a winged human-headed bull from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, and its companion. Walk between them, and there is a corridor of bas-reliefs glorifying the king and showing other guardian spirits, including eagle-headed ones which remind me strongly of C. S. Lewis's Tash. It's interesting to compare these with the angels generally depicted in Christian art. I suspect the colossal statues are what seraphs ought to look like.

I walked around a few corners, and spent some time in the Early Greek rooms, taking a route I hadn't taken before. I saw some Geometric Period vases, which were new to me. A lot of the things in that room would be very interesting to any artist; I particularly noticed the horses on a very early vase, and what they had in common, in different directions, with cave-paintings (the awareness of musculature), the Parthenon sculptures (the arrangement of legs) and Picasso (the way the heads and eyes were represented). I can't find a picture of that specific vase, but this one is displayed nearby and is in the same style.

Then I wandered upstairs to the Egyptian mummies. The Burial Group of the Priest Hornedjitef and his rather alarming sarcophagus asked to be remembered to Tangobaby, as did Soter and family.

The gallery of mummies was more or less impassable with French schoolchildren, so I went back a bit and encountered the Royal Graves of Ur, including the Great Death Pit, which I hadn't known about before.

Then as I usually do, I ended up in the room where the Nereid Monument is. Most of it is at one end of the room but I think the best bit is at the other - three statues of astonishing workmanship, with benches thoughtfully placed so you can just sit and stare.

I draw your attention to the Nereid on the right. This picture is not from my favourite angle - I would have moved to the left and had the lighting more from above.

What no photo can tell you is this: you can see the bottom of her ribcage, and the fat of her belly. You can see the aureolas of her breasts, and the way the wet fabric clings to everything. Sit on the bench in front of this for ten minutes, look at it properly, and see if you can convince yourself it's stone.

Here's a picture of all three of the Nereids together.

Two mascaras to dance in

Lancôme Cils Design Pro

This stuff is remarkable. The price is rather startling, but its effect on my lashes is so good, and such an important feature of the look I'm trying to achieve, that it's worth the money. It's not labelled as waterproof, but I've subjected it to hours of energetic dancing in sweaty conditions, plus a few tears before bedtime (nothing major, just sentimental selfpitying stuff), and it's been perfectly unmoved. I've even absentmindedly slept in it, and not looked like a panda in the morning. This applies to both the 'define-and-lengthen' part and to the 'custom design lash effect,' which is a bit like painting in acrylics. I bought mine at the end of June, I generally wear it twice a week (just for dancing), and there's plenty left.

Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof

I have subjected this not just to dancing but to a proper hide-in-the-loos session of exhausted weeping, and it stuck to its post. Its effect on the lashes is just ordinary, but it's cheap and very reliable.

I also use this stuff:

L'Oréal Touche Magique liquid concealer

I use this as an undercoat on my eyelids, and it stops eyeliner doing the panda thing. It's cheap and readily available in a colour that matches my skin very well, and it comes in a rather well-designed pen-shaped package with an integral brush. I use very little eyeshadow, but it stops that moving too.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Lipstick on your collar (and halfway up your shirt)

Tangobaby has a good post about makeup, a subject in which she is deeply and passionately expert, and how to get it right so it doesn't look silly, or cause embarrassment by migrating to the wrong part of your face, or someone else's face, or clothes.

Among other things, she says this:

how many times have you been invited to dance with a leader only to see his shoulder covered with foundation, lipstick or mascara? Yuck.
I've been dancing for a year now, and I've never noticed that. I have seen a friend with a kiss of bright pink lipstick half way up his shirt (she was very short and a bit enthusiastic), but I've never noticed gunk on the shoulder.

So why is this? Is it just that American women customarily wear more makeup than we do? Is it that I've never looked carefully? I'm spot-on average height for a British woman - maybe it's something I'd notice if I were little?

I don't really see how I could possibly transfer makeup to my partner's shoulder. You don't rest your face there. But if I were three inches shorter, perhaps it would be different. Any thoughts?

The Cabinet of Curiosities

I went to the British Museum on Friday, and I might go again tomorrow.

They've done up the King's Library recently, also known as Room 1, and it's really beautiful. They have a replica of the Rosetta Stone displayed as it originally was, so you can touch it (the real one is on the other side of the court, in a glass case), and the room is devoted to a magnificent exhibition on the Age of Enlightenment. If you want to see the Rondanini Faun, the jawbone of a Mastodon, lots of greek vases, and a bust of Sir Joseph Banks, this is the place to go.

There's also a new room where they put anything particularly interesting that has to be moved while they're refitting a gallery. It's always different. On Friday it was full of completely lunatic clocks (that one is more than five feet tall) and watches, ticking away, including one in the shape of a nef, beside a half-million-year-old handaxe, a fourteenth century English ewer that had been found in the tomb of an African king, and the Lewis Chessmen.

It's free. You can just walk in and look at all this stuff and have it explained to you, because the great collectors like Sir Hans Sloane and Richard Payne Knight, Charles Townley and Sir William Hamilton (the same one who was famous for his wife) collected all these things and tried the best they could to understand them. And then they gave the results to the nation, and ever since, it's just gone on.

You will spend money in the shop, though, and the bookshop, and the café.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Electric butterfly

It's been below freezing at night this week, so when I get to the dancing place I have to turn myself from a hairy caterpillar (sheepskin jacket, shawl round head, rabbit skin gloves, woolly boots and socks, long sleeved knee-length zip-up hoodie) into a butterfly.

Unlike the butterfly, I reverse the transformation when it's time to go home.

Last night, the process of metamorphosis made so much static electricity, I crackled.

But when I get home, I'm still warm enough that I can get changed and go to bed without having to turn the heating on in my cold little flat. I'm warm from the inside, and it takes over an hour to dissipate; longer than getting home from my usual Saturday place.

Blue beret

I've made the blue silk I got at the iknitlondon stitch & bitch day into a hat. Here's the pattern, which I just made up. It's all crochet except for the ribbing at the end, which is there to give it a bit of grip. I decided on a beret because the trouble with silk is, it isn't springy and stretchy like wool, so most winter hat shapes just wouldn't work. But it what it does do, is drape.

I skein Fluffenstuff hand-dyed "Aran" silk in "Aether" (I don't agree that it's aran - I'd call it double-knitting at most, and some experiment says that 4mm to 4.5mm is the needle size to use for a wearable fabric).

4mm crochet hook and 5 4mm double pointed knitting needles.

Make a loop and work 12 dc (or sc if you are American) into it. Join with a slip stitch and continue to work dc in a spiral, increasing irregularly as necessary to keep it circular and flat, until it is as big as a dinner plate. I do this based on experience with a little trial and error, but you start increasing every 2, then 3 and end up hardly increasing at all. Interspersing no-increase rounds works well. You have to mark the end of the round somehow if you're going to be that orderly about it: I don't bother, but just do it by eye with frequent checks.

When it is big enough, decrease every 12th stitch for one round and then decrease every 10th stitch until the opening is just slightly bigger than a good fit over your normal hairstyle - with enough room to get the fingers inside.

Put the last stitch on the first 4mm dpn and pick up all the stitches until you have a full cirle. Knit in knit-1-purl-1 rib for 10 rounds.

Cast off with a really stretchy cast off. I do it like this: k1, *return the loop on the right needle to the left needle, knit it again, knit/purl next stitch in pattern, cast off knit/purlwise to suit that stitch, repeat from * till you get to the end.

It is reversible: if you wear it inside out the texture is different, softer with a less obvious spiral pattern. The ribbing can be tucked inside or pulled down to keep your ears warm.

I have another skein, and a bit left over from this one. They might be a scarf or some fingerless mittens, which are very nice in a chilly office. Silk is surprisingly warm. There might even be enough for both.

Thursday, 13 December 2007


I'm on holiday today, and all of next week!

I am not in the office till after Christmas.

The project managers do not have my number, and they cannot find me.

I can lie in bed at 4am listening to the cricket on Long Wave.

I can go to the British Museum and look at the amazing things.

I can talk to people in different timezones.

I can do housework, and put my accounts in order.

I can turn the two skeins of beautiful blue silk from fluffenstuff into something nice (a hat, I think, and something else).

I can go to a midweek milonga without struggling the next day.

I'm sure I can think of a few more things tomorrow.

I am determined that by the day after tomorrow I will have forgotten all about work.

Sunday, 9 December 2007


I danced the Canyengue set tonight, and then it was time to go home.

I've only danced Canyengue in class before, never socially, and the last time in class was a month or so ago. In the first one I got the hold a bit wrong, forgetting how important it is to point your face in the correct direction. In the second and third that was better, but I didn't entirely deliver the little off-axis-ness that is supposed to be there. I think my feet were generally OK but I felt a little bit clumsy and approximate. I was tiring, I'd danced all evening and at least one of my feet was hurting quite a bit. (I need to get some of that magic cold goo to rub on sore spots - I have the magic hot goo, but it's not as effective).

Canyengue looks quite a bit different, so I was sure I'd be stared at. Most people just dance tango to the same music. I haven't had much practice at it, and I couldn't afford to be distracted by catching anyone's eye. I've also found that it's very tempting in a Canyengue hold to look down, at your shadow on the floor, and that causes things to go wrong. So I made a decision to keep my eyes shut.

They were so firmly shut, and I was concentrating so hard, that I was quite surprised at where we were when I opened them. He could have danced me out into the street and I wouldn't have known.

I danced one more dance - Poema - with someone else. He asked me as I was getting a drink of water on the way to my coat. I'd only danced with him once before, I want to dance with him again, and he said "I really like Poema" (which had already started) - and I hesitated and said yes.

He dances really nicely but I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have done. I had intended the previous dance to be my last one because it was exactly what I wanted to take home with me. And I was regretting not having stuck to that idea. I'd actually been inspired to say "that's my last one" to the previous partner, as well, and having gone back on that made me feel worse. I felt obscurely as though I'd treated both of them with less respect than I would have wished, in my own mind if not in theirs. Just one of life's little errors, I suppose.

As soon as Poema was over I explained that I had to get my train. And I more or less got to take home what I wanted.

Canyengue looks rather bizarre, to my eye, but it feels gorgeous.

Saturday, 8 December 2007


I've just been to Frillseekers. I think I must have got their flyer at iknitlondon, although it's been stuck on my door and I was somehow convinced I must have got it at a dancing night. Anyway, Fran and Caroline are very nice and they sell vintage clothing.

I bought a dark-silver seventies blouse with diamante trim which I may even wear out dancing tonight. It's sexy and suits me. I tried on a fifties dress which fitted beautifully and looked sort of stunning, but I would never actually have worn because it's just not really my style. They have some really interesting coats, hats, and handbags, and some vintage knitting patterns, too.

I explained what I needed for dancing, so they will be looking out for it. It has to be reasonably sleek - not too long - not too restrictive - not too loose - nothing that can catch on a man's clothing and cause embarrassment - and ideally, it should look interesting from behind. Washability is a big bonus, and my new blouse should be fine washed by hand.


As well as (I hope) an agreeably scented armful, and a nicer dance than you'd expect from my experience, I learned tonight that I am also, sometimes, a cold nose.

It's always intriguing to see yourself from someone else's point of view, and my favourites are the trivial details of the same kind that make a novelist's description live.

There's a moment in HMS Surprise where Patrick O'Brian writes something like - "she was wearing a hard blue dress, tediously embroidered with pearls". He was a magnificent writer and I love that line, about a very beautiful woman in a difficult situation and a bad temper. You see her standing there, in the lap of luxury, having made a poorer-than-usual choice of outfit that afternoon.

I was delighted with my cold nose news - apparently rather nice in a hot room - and giggled for the rest of the tanda.

And he was my second dance of the night, so presumably my nose was also cold for the first one - but I don't think we did whatever it was that caused the end of my nose to make contact.

It's a long and slightly scary walk from the station to tonight's venue, but it seems much shorter on the way back when you're nice and warm.

And I'm sure my eyelashes sometimes tickle.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

More clicks

Ihad a really good night on Saturday, and I have a store of joy to last all week in between being busy. I have some things to remember from my regular class as well.

  1. give it a little bit more air in the forward step when you're going round, don't step in, don't worry about stepping away, you aren't ...
  2. you can do that by collecting your feet a bit better in the middle of it instead of instinctively taking the shortcut from over here to over there, you do cover more ground but the balance is better and it's easy once you're fast enough ...
  3. and by paying more attention to the way your following foot pivots to point where you're going before it leaves the ground, which helps (2) happen.

    That all added up to a rather subtle alteration, although it doesn't sound it, and it took me several repetitions to work out what I was being told, but I think I've got it and it did feel different, and better. Also:

  4. The colgadas (where I go off my own axis and hang from the leader) worked fine, and I can even swing the axis around if I think about keeping my shoulders level and let the hips look after themselves. I only got dropped once. I didn't fall down. I just squeaked rather loudly and he remembered what he was doing and caught me.

But still, please don't throw me into colgadas unless you know how to get out of them. That tends to be the dodgy bit.

If I forget to breathe properly my lower back gets tired. Tensing up round the lower ribs is a bad habit that's not directly connected with the dancing. My Alexander Technique instructor showed me how to fix it, and I can do it perfectly well if I remember.

I've just got a piece of music on - it's the Choir of the Moscow Church singing a blessing by Rachmaninov. Have you ever heard a Russian basso profondo? How can this be a human voice?